The 1st District legislative race got testy Thursday, with both sides accusing each other of misleading campaign advertisements.

The Republicans held a telephone conference with reporters Thursday morning to complain about a newspaper ad the Democrats ran claiming a state ethics panel had found no wrongdoing by Assemblyman Nelson Albano during a traffic stop near Trenton last year.

Republicans Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, Sam Fiocchi and Kristine Gabor are facing off against Democratic incumbents Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Albano to represent the district that includes all of Cape May County and parts of Cumberland and Atlantic counties.

The Republicans have been hammering Albano over a Feb. 21, 2012, traffic stop in which he tried to talk his way out of a ticket without success and then made claims about the State Police trooper’s conduct that were refuted by the dashboard camera in the police vehicle. Albano subsequently apologized and paid the speeding ticket.

The Democrats ran an ad in a weekly newspaper this week in a format that made it look like a news story. The headline said, “Ethics Committee Declines To Find Fault Against Albano.” The byline simply said “Sponsored Content.”

Though technically true so far, the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards is still investigating the complaint filed against Albano by Dennis Township Republican Ed Beck.

The ad goes on to say the panel “took no action against Albano” but plans to look into it further and postponed action to a “a future date.”

“We are extremely pleased that the committee declined to find any wrongdoing on behalf of Nelson,” the ad states.

Though it looks like a newspaper story, the bottom of the page makes it clear it was ordered and paid for by “Van Drew for Senate.”

The Republicans placed a similar ad in the newspaper, also under the byline Sponsored Content, claiming Van Drew was misleading voters on the Albano issue.

The Thursday conference call included Adelizzi-Schmidt, Gabor and Fiocchi but also state Republican minority leaders Sen. Tom Kean and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, both R-Morris, Somerset, Union.

“This looks like a real article, and I guess that’s a way to convince people it was an article. Saying no findings of guilt is misleading. It’s like saying a defendant was not found guilty even while jury deliberations continue,” Bramnick said.

Allison Murphy, the campaign manager for the Democrats, defended the ad, which she said she wrote.

“They say it’s misleading. There’s nothing misleading. I stand by that ad. It clearly states where we are in the process,” Murphy said.

Murphy, in turn, complained about a radio ad the Republicans ran.

“We interrupt this program for breaking news from Trenton,” the radio spot begins, “where sources say Jeff Van Drew will admit for the first time he’s guilty of raising taxes.”

You can hear cameras click and crowd noise as Van Drew says “we tax too much.”

Murphy said Van Drew’s comments were taken out of context.

“They faked a press conference on a radio ad. Misleading is a fake press conference. The press conference radio ad they did was a blatant lie,” Murphy said.

Chris Russell, a consultant for the Republicans, acknowledged Van Drew was probably trying to make a larger point on taxes, but he said the ad was not out of context, because Van Drew supported “a lot of terrible budgets and tax increases” when Democrat Jon S. Corzine was governor.

Van Drew noted he has said “we tax too much” on different occasions in speeches, but he said the radio ad took this out of context.

State Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, also got involved. The newspaper ad included a list of lawmakers who had ethics charges against them that were dismissed. Murphy has said this often happens during election seasons. Allen wrote Van Drew saying she was deeply disappointed her name was “improperly invoked” and asking him to correct the record publicly.

“The fact of the matter is that the ethics committee received and dismissed the complaint against me on the exact same day, citing a lack of evidence to warrant proceeding further. Whereas, in the Albano case, the same committee took a completely different action. Instead of dismissing the complaint due to lack of evidence, they unanimously decided that further investigation into the assemblyman was warranted,” Allen wrote.

Murphy said she had asked the ethics committee for a list of past cases where they accepted jurisdiction and then dismissed the charges and Allen’s name was on it. Murphy said she expects the Albano complaint to be similarly dismissed.

The Republicans are also sounding alarms about a Democrat-controlled PAC funding attack ads against Adelizzi-Schmidt. Cape May County Republican Chairman Mike Donohue said the Super PAC known as Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security is run by Democratic power brokers in Camden, such as George Norcross, and in Washington, including U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, and is “dirty politics at its worst.”

Murphy said that by law her team has had nothing to do with the PAC or the ads being run.

“They’re saying I’m not Jeff’s campaign manager, Harry Reid is. They want us to denounce this. Well I want her (Adelizzi-Schmidt) to denounce her entire campaign,” Murphy said.

Adelizzi-Schmidt, meanwhile, is trying to pull Van Drew into the Albano probe by noting Albano used legislative stationery with Van Drew’s name on it when he wrote a letter to the State Police complaining about the trooper’s conduct.

“He should be held accountable,” Adelizzi-Schmidt said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.